What we deny

Check out the Podcast too: “Just Conversations” with Melanie White and Amanda Potts. https://voiced.ca/project/just-conversations/

Only in our isolation and disconnectedness do we discover that everything and everyone is localized and connected. And, in this distancing, I am beginning to question what we deny.

Rebecca Solnit kept appearing in my daily consumption of media and I’m beginning to wonder if this is the work of a latent existential force drawing my attention to something I should have known or done long ago. I listened to her voice in an episode of On Being last week. She wrote, “When all the ordinary divides and patterns are shattered, people step up to become their brothers’ keepers…and that purposefulness and connectedness bring joy even amidst death, chaos, fear, and loss.” The unusual lilt of her voice and calm intellect still spin in my mind’s ear. And, this morning, I stopped scrolling my Twitter feed struck by this linguistic wisdom. She wrote,

“Inside the word ’emergency’ is ’emerge’; from an emergency new things come forth. The old certainties are crumbling fast, but danger and possibility are sisters.” #RebeccaSolnit

And then on Twitter, Gianpiero Petriglieri wrote that an “old therapist friend” told him why everyone was “so exhausted after video calls. It’s the plausible deniability of each other’s absence. Our minds tricked into the idea of being together when our bodies feel we’re not. Dissonance is exhausting. Our bodies process so much context…” I stopped to think about that wording, “plausible deniability”, and the more common legalistic use for one escaping criminal repercussions as a member of a corrupt organization or political power.

However, I couldn’t wrap my head around this experience of dissonance and the connotations of “plausible deniability” as something happening to us rather than something we choose to avoid like the truth or an injustice. According to Wikipedia“the expression was first used by the CIA” but the idea apparently has a longer history. I needed to understand the term, like Solnit explored “emergency”; it was an itch that pressed me, so I read further. “Plausible denial involves the creation of power structures and chains of command loose and informal enough to be denied if necessary”.

Then a thought struck me. What power structures are currently in place which I deny? What small almost imperceptible movements have made me complicit in this dance of distraction? Solnit reappeared during my longer moment of breakfast reading in The Guardian article entitled: “The impossible has already happened: what coronavirus can teach us about hope”. How marvelous and uplifting it is to read her vibrant words calling us to action and existence, to make the most of the worst.

While I cannot deny there is absence in my new-found isolation, I can also see that my thoughts attend a new experience. I am paying attention to moving about my house, to walking the dog, to gazing out the window with no real productivity pressure of this instant. And, yes, I am teaching remotely, but connecting, supporting personalized learning is my focus rather than a product on the line of academic factory life. This is where I cannot sense Petriglieri’s Tweet about “plausible deniability”. I am now working on processing the context of my daily life which I previously ignored in mind-numbing haste consumed by the blind goals of my own productivity or some socialized version of productivity.

My body is processing the context of my life in isolation and thinking about the actions needed for when we might connect again. I am trying not to deny my own physical interaction with and existence in the world.

 

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Looking for a new book to read? Many stories from educators, two student chapters, and a student-designed cover for In Other Words.

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Riding an edu-emotional roller coaster

 

Opinions expressed are those of the author.

 

Last week those of us in BC ed had no idea what this week would have in store for us. When I was a kid, “self-isolating” was humorously coined for those who rather not deal with the public, “social distancing” was something told to us by supervisors at teen dances, and “quarantining” was something learned in history units.

But like it or not, we have been hit in the face with a crisis of epic proportions. It’s been an emotional roller coaster navigating the slings and arrows of toilet paper hoarding, Bonnie Henry updates, and beachy trip cancellations.

And now, BC teachers are faced with uncertainty as to how we will continue teaching without students in our classrooms. Over the last few years, we’ve been besieged with a renewed curriculum and just started to understand how proficiency scales can be used in our classrooms. Some of us have been making waves by leading teachers on a gradeless mission. Since yesterday’s announcement, I cannot help but wonder if all the work we’ve done will now be undone. I could scream and cry at the same time.

I know it might seem like an unrealistic conundrum to be contemplating the fate of gradeless at a time like this. Like many of you, I’m hanging on pins and needles waiting for our school board to announce how, specifically, we will meet the needs of our students after spring break. I have so many questions from communication to assessment. I’m worried about my at-risk students and how my colleagues will weather this storm. How will my student LEARN at home?

Learn. Hmmm…

Learning is the focus of gradeless teaching and assessment. You’ve heard me explain so many times over that when we remove grades and focus on the individual child and their growth, a child will develop a growth mindset. When we put the needs of each individual child instead of comparing them to each other or categorizing them by grades, we build a culture of learners, not grade grabbers.

Amid this edu-crisis, do we have to stop? Should we still consider gradeless? In fact, isn’t now, more than ever, the time to rethink what our goals are for our students? Is uncertainty and anxiousness a reason to revert to old habits, like handing over packages of content heavy worksheets, and abandoning single point rubrics? Or is this an opportunity to practice…really practice putting learning before grades? Isn’t this the time to think about the needs of the child? Shouldn’t our focus be on how the child will learn instead of how will I teach under these different circumstances? So many questions!

One thing I know is, now more than ever, students do not need grade pressures. They don’t need us to hover a “here’s what you need to pass” over their heads because we’re worried about getting through “the curriculum.” At home, students are juggling feelings of isolation, parents being laid off, themselves being laid off, lack of technology, too much technology, empty grocery store shelves and empty cupboards, never mind the questions: When will we return to school? Will there be a grad ceremony? Why can’t I see my friends?

In my opinion, if the government (or school board, or whomever makes these decisions) is smart, they’ll deemphasize grades. This will reduce the burden on educators. But like letter grades, even discussions over pass/fail, if that becomes the new norm, should not be considered or discussed with students until the end of the year. We can, instead, focus our energy on creative ways to meet students’ social emotional needs, develop a distance classroom community, and give voice and choice. Teachers will need to let go of being an eyewitness to learning in their rooms and we’ll really need to let go of content. If we hand over miles of notes, worksheets and google-able essay topics, we’re asking for trouble in the form of disinterest, cheating and plagiarism, and crushing failure. We’ll need lots of time to settle into a new routine. Students will need time to adjust.

Ultimately, before we start teaching, we need to figure out a balance between Maslow and Bloom….for all stakeholders: students, parents, and us. We need to lower our expectations and big dreams for the perfect online or distance education course. We need to take care of ourselves and our families first, connect with students and their families second, and collaborate with colleagues on implementing curriculum third.

When we implement the curriculum, we need to use the skills that are the focal point of the BC curriculum as a platform for meeting student’s social-emotional needs. If we give students some voice and choice as to what they want to learn and how they want to learn it, it will feel less like us pushing our agenda on them, and more like welcoming students into this new learning environment and building trust. For example, an English teacher (well duh…of course I’m going to use an English example) might begin by asking students to journal every day from a series of prompts but use prompts that are flexible and open to interpretation. This will give teachers some insight into students’ social-emotional levels/needs as well as meeting curriculum requirements to foster reflection and thinking. Information from those journals could springboard into a project-based learning assignment. Creative writers could write a story, critical thinkers could research a topic, and visual learners could create a collage or PowerPoint. Content pieces can be slipped into to individualized projects to try to meet curriculum requirements.

I understand the pressure that content heavy courses like science and math have on teachers. This dilemma has been systemically ingrained in school culture for years. Right now, a math teacher is reading this blog and thinking that there is no way they can do PBL when they have X number of chapters to get through in the textbook by June. My hope is that teachers incorporate a bit of hands on learning in order to make learning in seclusion enjoyable and fun. The reality is, the content students do not learn this year, can be incorporated into next year’s curriculum. Yup it can. But that’s next year.

I’ve made a point to vocally de-emphasize prepping over spring break, but I know that recommendation has fallen on deaf ears. I cast no blame, for if I were to, that would draw attention to me as a proverbial finger-wagger instead of me the genuine worrier for the well-being of my colleagues around the province. I confess, I’ve been thinking a lot about how I will handle my own new teaching situation, as, but I lost sleep thinking about how my colleagues are handling the pressure. I already see the formation of chats and groups with sole purpose of collaborating on resources and expertise. While these groups have good intentions, I hope teachers are using this time to focus on themselves and their families.

Teachers wear their hearts on their sleeves. We want to do what is best for our students. We naturally lack patience when gaps of information are left without direction. We overthink. We care so much. We worry. We’re teachers. Heck, I’m writing a blog in order to manage my own stress. It’s how I roll. It’s how I cope.

It won’t be long and spring break will be over and we’ll return to school. It will look and feel different. We’ll have to collaborate virtually with our colleagues who work just next door. Staff meetings may very well take place in the theatre so that we can sit 2 meters away from each other. It will be weird. Nothing about this pandemic is familiar. It’s important that we don’t expect to recreate what was in our classrooms and in our buildings. It’s important to accept the feelings of uneasiness and frustration that will come. Pause. Breathe. Accept. Repeat.

Focus on yourself. When you are ready to focus on how you’ll teach your students in this new reality, make learning and the social emotionally well being of them the priority. They’ll be just fine. So will you. We are, after all, in this together.

#mygrowthmindset

 

 

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here.

 

Looking for a new book to read? Many stories from educators, two student chapters, and a student-designed cover for In Other Words.

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An In-Home Learning Strategy for Busy Quarantine Families

Guest post byAndrew Easton: teacher, edu-blogger, podcaster, and future author for Dave Burgess Consulting Inc. Follow him on Twitter @EastonA1, on Instagram @andrew.d.easton, or at andrewdeaston.com/

 

In our household there are two teachers and two primary-age students, and during our first week staying at home, we had a problem. As adults, we still have work responsibilities, and at ages 5 and 8, the kids need help navigating the five subjects of schoolwork they receive each day.

Our first thought was to set a schedule so that routines would be established. In that way, designated times would kick-start certain subjects and tasks. 

Fail. 

What we quickly realized was that sometimes the kids needed support with certain tasks, and if there happened to be a Zoom staff meeting or any other commitment that prevented us from supporting them in that immediate moment, the structure fell apart. The schedule needed more flexibility.

Then, we tried a checklist.

Fail.

Next, we tried using a checklist. I mean, who doesn’t love the feeling of crossing things off your to-do list?!? Well, the answer to that is my children. Even though a checklist does not have to be done in a specific order, don’t try telling that to them. The checklist was frustrating, and stopping a task to take a break routinely killed all their motivation to continue on with their work.

 

Finally, an answer.

Recognizing the shortcomings of our initial attempts, we felt optimistic about using a “To-Do, Doing, Done” board. The idea was that each day we would write down each item on their to-do list on a separate post-it note. Those post-its get placed in their “To-Do” column, and then as they start a task, the post-it moves to the “Doing” column. Once complete, it gets moved to “Done” and five completed tasks earns a sticker that is worth 30 minutes of free time.

Success.

Here’s what’s happened since we started. The kids now wake up each morning and run to their board to search through their list for the day. We intentionally scatter the post-its so that there is no implied order, and we like to put a fun, surprise activity on a post-it and hide it in the mix. 

Oh, and in case you are wondering, yes, chores also go on post-its.

The “Doing” column has also been a godsend. There are times throughout the day when our responsibilities as adults make us momentarily unavailable to lead them through a portion of their work. The kids now know that they can leave a task in the “Doing” column and start something else if an adult is busy.

The “Doing” column has also been great for motivation. When the kids choose to stop mid-activity, we ask them to reflect on how close they are to finishing and to move that post-it to the place between the start/finish lines in the “Doing” column that reflects just how close they are to completing that task. Last week, my daughter had stopped her writing earlier in the day, but she was bent on moving the post-it to done. Seeing just how close she was to finishing, she, unprompted, wrote for an additional 30 minutes later that night.

 

Overall, this board has made our household happier and more productive. It’s helped us to maintain a more positive learning dynamic during these stressful times, which is why I wanted to share our story. I hope this strategy can help you! 

 

So from our family to yours, please know that we are thinking about you all and are sending our best wishes your way.

 

 

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here.

 

Looking for a new book to read? Many stories from educators, two student chapters, and a student-designed cover for In Other Words.

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

Reflection

Guest Post by April McKnight (@rilmcknight)

Reflection is concerned with consciously looking at and thinking about our experiences, actions, feelings, and responses, and then interpreting or analyzing them in order to learn from them. That is a big statement and a hard topic for our students. So how are we as educators supposed to work towards helping our students reflect on their thinking / learning and that of others.

So first I ask, as teachers and educators do we spend time on self reflection. Do we have the time to look back at our day of learning and “reflect on the information we receive through observation, experience, and other forms of communication to solve problems, design products, understand events, and address issues.” Yes that quote is straight out of our core competencies for critical and reflective thinking.

Yes I know every teacher is doing their self reflection in some way whenever they can but ho do we help students learn this process and see the benefits of reflection.

As a high school STEM educator, I always had reflection as part of my labs. We use our three go to questions for every lab:

What worked the best?

What needs to be tweaked?

What could we do to make it better?

This became common place in my classes and extended to all our work. Students would reflect on their own learning and ask each other to assess their work based on these questions.

As the new BC curriculum came around, I started to look at the self reflection during our projects. We have always looked at the process as more important. Photo journals or design changed diagrams or written reports were used to show their journey. But now we wanted to add in more self reflection along the way. After classroom discussions, it was decided that we would do weekly self reflection on large projects as a journal, blog or vlog. Students used the 3 questions to show their progress. The learning became very evident and assessment of their learning process was easier too.

I feel we need to all use reflection as part of our classroom routines and it wont feel so daunting in the end. It will make our assessment for, of and as learning much easier.

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here.

 

Looking for a new book to read? Many stories from educators, two student chapters, and a student-designed cover for In Other Words.

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

To Be a Global Educator

Guest post by Ava-Gaye K Blackford (@BlackfordAva)

(I read this post and and agree with the foreword below, Ava is an inspiration and her passion for education is clear.)
From Ava’s blog

I had the pleasure of connecting with Ava through my work with Participate. I was helping to pilot a new professional development program, and Ava was one of the brave teachers who took a risk and learned alongside her students as they looked for ways to make their school lunch healthier through multiple student-driven avenues. I was immediately impressed with her motivation and excitement toward teaching and learning and her openness to feedback. Here’s what Ava believes about education and what she’s been up to since I last worked with her.


lunchAva.jpg

I believe that teaching is the foundation for all other careers which requires compassionate and patient individuals who have a passion for scaffolding students and imparting knowledge. I feel that it is the ability to help others to acquire new information, competencies or values and implementing specific interventions to help students who need support to learn particular things. I also believe that teachers are born and not made. I know that I am an outstanding teacher because I am able to connect with and relate to my students to bring out their true potential. I also do not crumble under pressure or when I face obstacles instead I persevere. I am intrinsically motivated, and the reward I find in teaching is the personal satisfaction I obtain when I see students learn something new and achieve academic success and development. Being a part of the Participate international teaching program has been a very fulfilling and life-changing experience, and I recommend more teachers to gravitate towards this adventure.

My decision to join participate was due to several reasons. First, I wanted to share my culture by acting as a Cultural Ambassador so people can learn the uniqueness of my Jamaican culture as well as learning about other cultures. Secondly, I wanted the opportunity to travel the world, meet new people and build partnerships with stakeholders in the education system. Besides, I would be able to learn new strategies so that I may share with colleagues back home, learn about different technological devices, apps, and sites that may be used to boost students’ engagement and learning. Finally, to grow professionally as an educator. Reflecting on my journey thus far, I can safely say that I have achieved all of these goals and have grown into a productive Global Educator.

Currently, I have been assigned the role of Local Advisor. I have been granted the opportunity to guide two new Participate teachers and help them to transition smoothly in their new job position. As a local adviser, I serve as a mentor to new international teachers and share my own experiences, cultural opportunities, and ideas on how to be a successful exchange visitor teacher and cultural ambassador of their country.

School lunch project

School lunch project

 To be a successful exchange teacher, one has to capitalize on both human and physical resources present within the walls of the school to maximize students’ full potential, improve one’s self as a Global Educator and adjust to the school’s culture and climate. In my first year, I worked closely with the Academic coach to plan classroom routines and school-wide management procedures. The use of technology in my lessons made my work as a teacher easier because I am able to allow students to direct and take control of their own learning by conducting research, become involved in Project Based Learning, and participate in online quizzes. I researched different sites that I may use with students to boost active engagement and learning.

I share students’ work on Twitter, send emails and write letters to pen-pals in Jamaica and other countries like Mexico. We participate in video calls with students from Jamaica sharing culture or concepts learned, and we have even video called resource persons from Nigeria.

In addition, I try to globalize my lessons as much as possible. Students enjoy learning about other countries, and this makes learning more authentic and meaningful. I also collaborate with grade level teams to focus on differentiated learning opportunities for students to meet students where they are at. We also gather suitable resources and plan effective and developmentally appropriate instructional lessons and strategies. We progress monitor students and use data to set grade-level goals and identify students who need tier 2 or tier 3 interventions.

I have learned so much throughout my journey as a Participate teacher, and I have enjoyed sharing and showcasing my culture. My students and I participated in a Last Year’s Winter Celebration (December 2017) where were attired in Jamaican costumes and paraded for parents and community members to view. We also did a presentation where we sang Jamaican Christmas Carols like “Christmas a Come me Waan me Lama.” My colleagues, principal, students, and parents were fascinated by the performance, and we received positive feedback. This was the perfect opportunity to connect with the school community and bridge the gap between home and school.

Ava’s students learning about Jamaican culture.

Ava’s students learning about Jamaican culture.

We also prepared a Jamaican display for all to view, ask questions and learn about the Jamaican culture. Students seem to be eager to learn about other countries and cultures so by globalizing lessons this makes the teaching and learning process more meaningful and interesting. I have also done research and read about schools that have shown marked improvements in academics because of the inclusion of Global Education to the curriculum. This has helped me to develop a new level of understanding and depth to my teaching.

I have made a positive impact on my school and living community by allowing each stakeholder to develop vicarious experiences about my culture. In data meetings or team meetings, I help to include information about the Jamaican culture in our lessons. I also bring colleagues and community members Jamaican souvenirs, teach songs and stories from my culture and share past experiences about my country. I mount multiple display boards showcasing the Jamaican culture in the classroom, also during culture night and market day celebrations. For Market Day this past year, my students and I made Jamaican souvenirs such as key chains, flags, and bracelets. We were also mentioned in the Time News. You may click here to read the story.

Being a teacher means demonstrating the ability to provide authentic, engaging, meaningful and cultural learning experiences to cater to the needs of diverse learners. It also means equipping students with effective and efficient skills needed to function in a global society. I have learned to do this through imparting knowledge, skills, and attitudes required to be a global citizen, giving students the opportunity to build vicarious experiences and travel the world through virtual exchange. The world is becoming a smaller place due to advances in technology and mobility. Hence, students need to be globally prepared, develop self-awareness, cultural understanding and empathy so that they will be able to appreciate others and their culture. As Global educators, we should incorporate Global Instructional Practices used to integrate global concepts and lenses in the classroom meaningfully.

AVA JRNEY.png

My continuous participation in Professional Development activities has boosted my self-confidence and determination as an educator. When I return home to Jamaica, I also plan to conduct workshops to impart some of the fabulous strategies and interventions that I have learned here. I have already started sharing best practices with some of my colleagues back home, and they all seem to be loving them and are trying new things in their classroom.

Since writing this post, Ava was invited to present at Participate’s Global Schools Symposium on “Using Cooperative Learning Strategies to Boost Students’ Learning and Engagement”. In addition she attended a Life Lab PD in Santa Cruz, California, and she continues to inspire her students and the community through innovative projects like incorporating garden-based learning into the mainstream curriculum and being a facilitator at three of ABSS’ Core Four Professional Development workshop focusing on “Learning in the Outdoors.”

 

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here.

 

Looking for a new book to read? Many stories from educators, two student chapters, and a student-designed cover for In Other Words.

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

The “A” Word

  @deidre_roemer 

The first time I heard the word Autism I was teaching Early Childhood Special Education at an elementary school in Kapolei, Hawaii. It was very early in my teaching career, and I moved from teaching students with significant Emotional and Behavioral Disabilities in a self-contained setting at a middle school to teaching three and four year olds with various special needs in an inclusive setting with a Head Start class. Some of you may be thinking, why in the world would anyone move from Hawaii back to Wisconsin? That is an excellent question that I have asked myself regularly from November through February each year since, but my family is in the midwest. Family is more important that constant sunshine and living a few blocks from Waikiki Beach (at least that is what I tell myself :)).

As I reviewed the records of the students I would serve that year, I read about a young girl who was diagnosed with Autism. This was 1996, so it was long before Autism was as well known as it is now. It was also my first encounter with a learner who had the diagnosis. On our first day of school, her mom explained that she had echolalia (a new term to me at the time) and was a runner (another new term to me at the time). I quickly learned that echolalia meant that she repeated everything that was said all day long. Now, if you can get a picture of how much talking you do to a room of three and four-year-olds, you can see where someone following you around all day and repeating every word that you say is problematic. I also quickly learned that being a runner meant she takes off without warning and runs to anywhere and everywhere in the school and even out into the street. I had done all of my student teaching and my first couple of years of teaching working with older children who had a lot of mental health issues and behavior challenges, so this experience was certainly going to be a challenge.

I went home the first day beyond exhausted and started doing my research. This was at the time of dial-up internet, so getting access to information was not as easy and quick as it is now. I read lots of books and went to conferences. I used everything I had learned about shaping and helping learners control and change their own behavior to apply whatever strategies I could. I did not realize what I was doing at the time as there was not as much research available then about the science of the brain, but since I have learned about brain mapping and how you can create new neural pathways that make sense with where we found challenges and successes that year.

After the first few weeks of school, I realized that one of us was not going to make it through the school year if something did not change, and the four-year-old was winning. I started working closely with her parents, her doctor, other staff, and anyone else I could ask about strategies to help. We made visuals for everything and eventually trained her to follow cues to tell us what she needed instead of running away. The key to success was being more consistent in my practice than I had ever been before and making sure as a team we all used the same language and the same cues whenever we worked with her.

We ended up having a great year. She learned how to respond to real questions instead of repeating others, she told her mom she loved her for the first time (That was a great day!), she was able to play with others at recess with laughter, and she taught me a ton. I learned new ways to problem solve and how to see behavior as communication in a different way. I always understood that behavior was communication, but I was used to a lot of angry, acting out behavior. This was new stuff for me and helped me to see learners from an asset-based lens. This little girl, who happened to have Autism, had so many incredible gifts to offer the world; she just needed us to look for them in really unexpected ways. Although I went back to the mainland at the end of that year and back to working with older students, I have never forgotten all that she taught me that year and still talk about it almost twenty- five years later in sessions about how to work with children with unexpected behaviors in the classroom.

Since then, I have worked with many students who are on the Autism spectrum and their families. I know even more now about the communication, academic, and behavioral needs of these learners and have continued to learn so that I can help our teachers and leaders have the best skills to include them in every setting. I’ve learned about the entire spectrum and how varying the needs are across it. I know that if you know one learner with Autism, you know one learner with Autism and that what works for one rarely works for all. When I served as the Coordinator of Special Education for our school district, we started one of the first Autism specific programs for high school students in our area. We worked with grants and research organizations to get additional training for all teachers in understanding how to connect to and include students on the spectrum in meaningful ways. I have been able to support amazing teams of teachers and speech pathologists to develop a high school course based on the work of Michelle Garcia Winner in Social Thinking. Since then, our speech pathologists have expanded the work to running groups at most of our schools for students with special needs. Over the last two years, they have also trained many regular education teachers and school counselors to work with ALL learners on lessons in Social Thinking combined with the Zones of Regulation strategies from a very early age. Our goal is always that ALL of our learners can see their own place in a group, learn how to identify their needs, and learn strategies to feel empowered. When they understand their own social interactions and emotions, they are more likely to find a sense of belonging within a group and therefore want to contribute and create.

With all that I know now, you might be surprised to find out that it took me almost three years to use the word Autism in reference to our son, Nick. Our Nick has Autism, ADHD, and Dyslexia, which has turned out to be an opportunity to learn everything that is important in the world. Although professionally I knew a lot when we realized he was on the spectrum, you forget everything you know as a mom. It took me a long time to accept his diagnosis and talk about it with others. In a class for pre-service teachers at a local university, one of my students recently shared that one of her learners has “no support from home. His mom didn’t even come to his Individualized Education Plan (IEP) meeting.” I have been really open about Nick, his diagnosis, and why school getting it right is so essential in our class. My response that it took me three years to say the “A” word when it came to my son shocked her, and it made me realized I should talk about that more.

I have been open about sharing many of our success stories and what we have learned in the last several years both at work and with my family and friends. I don’t always talk about the time when we lived in a world of grief for what he might not become or denial that others just didn’t know him well enough. If that is how I felt with years and years of professional experience, how does someone feel who is trying to navigate an impossible system of medical care with no background or connections to resources to find the right support within the system? If I find IEP meetings ridiculously intimidating when I ran them for many years, how does it feel to be a parent without that background knowledge in a room full of experts talking about what is wrong with their child and our plan to help? I have the support of family and friends who stick by me even when I am not in a place to receive that help. I have access to resources through my professional networks and the privilege of being able to get him to multiple therapies and services each week with the support of my husband and extended family that not everyone has. We recognize that and are thankful for it every day. We certainly don’t have it all figured out by any means, but we have found some alternative therapies that are game-changers and were able to move him to a school that we thought was a better fit for him where he is thriving.

When I think about why I was so afraid of the “A” word, it comes down to not wanting him to be seen as his disability before someone gets to know him as a person. I had accepted that he has special needs for years, but I was really fearful of the “A” word because many people want you to know everything they know about Autism before they ask you or him one question about Nick as a person. He has this amazing, gentle spirit and sees the world in a really beautiful way. He just doesn’t show that side of himself to many people, which also took me a long time to realize as I have always been one of “his people” and made some assumptions that others were having a similar relationship with him to the one that I have.

My fear that his relationships would be defined by his label impacted me and kept me from teaching him to own who he is and express how he thinks differently about the world, why, and what he needs from others for a long time. I feared that others who have sympathy for him instead of empathy and therefore not hold him to the highest standard or simply ignore him if they didn’t understand the disability and that he is more than his label. He has made me a better educator and leader, as I am much quicker to try to see everyone and every situation from an empathetic lens. I don’t always need to be able to understand why someone feels a particular way to recognize that those feelings are real and take that into consideration with a response or some support. In the role I get to serve in now, our experience in supporting him helps me to know why every classroom needs to be a place where every learner feels embraced as part of the community, appreciated for the gifts they bring, and given opportunities to create in ways that connect to who they are even if who they are is different than what we would typically expect.

At the end of the day, we all have to remember that we are each doing the best we can. We each have different levels of education and life experience that contribute to who we are and how we respond to the next challenge life throws at us. People expected my acceptance to be different based on my experience, but it was not. I love my children as much as my parents loved me and as much as the parents we serve love their children. Those without the skills to navigate the system or the background to know what to do to support their child who learns differently in school love them just as much and really do want the best. They may just have a harder time showing it and being vulnerable enough to share their story with us. Given how long it took me to share mine, I get it.

Math Mentoring: The Struggle is Real AND it’s an Asset!

Struggling in math has been my greatest asset as a math teacher.  Remembering the pain of negative self-talk while feeling like giving up was my only option…well, math trauma is not easily forgotten. It’s why so many adults, decades after high school graduation, will still tell you they are bad at math. For me, the silver lining to that trauma has always been the ability to relate to my students, and even my own children, when they have math struggles.  One of the greatest compliments students and former students have shared with me is that math finally made sense to them when they were in my class.

One thing I’ve never said, and will never say, to my children is that I was bad at math.  Even as a new teacher, I asked parents not to say that to their children. Telling your children or students you are bad at math is like encouraging them to quit before they even begin.

Now, I have always told my students and children that I struggled in math.  We all understand what struggle means, and the good news is that there is always the possibility of winning in a struggle!  Every year, I tell them how I had to stay in at recess in first grade because I could not understand the concept of subtraction.  Crazily enough, my teacher had no idea how to teach it in a new way that made sense to me. She tried to explain it repeatedly in the same way…and it didn’t make sense to me for the longest time.  I also tell them about how in first grade I received a C in math and it made me feel terrible. I never wanted another C on my report card and made sure I never did again. That desire to make the Honor Roll (I was a middle child and wanted to stand out in some way, and academically was my route) kept me from quitting.  Math was a struggle, but I found a way to understand. As early as seven years old, I realized that quitting was not an option. Finding math success was never easy for me, but through my school years, I found what worked for me. This is what I share with my students hoping it will help them, too.

Addressing the Struggle at the Beginning of the Year

First week of school when I say the word “math”I look around to see who dreads the very word itself. It’s not just about reading expressions, but I look for patterns of misbehavior and any kind of drama that might commence when that dreaded word is spoken.  I always begin the year assuring my students that if they stick with me and trust me, as their math teacher, I will not leave them behind. I have promised that to my students for years, and I mean it with every fiber of my being. I explain that when they don’t quit, math can be fun like a puzzle.

What does it take to help children dig into math when they want to check out? It takes patience and time to do it to do it to do it to do it right, child, I got my mind set on math, I got my mind, set on math…

All singing aside (remember He gave me a melody *wink wink*), in a whole group lesson, the ones who get the concept easily, I normally allow them to begin the assignment and do it at their pace.  The students who have questions stick with me and the ones who are lost become a small group.

Helping my own child, a fifth grader review geometry!

What does helping kids through math struggle look like?

Sitting next to a child who struggles is important.  That nearness factor makes a difference. They know I won’t ignore them or allow them to pretend to work when really they are just doodling or trying to look busy.  See, by the time they reach fifth grade, they’ve pretty much given up. They don’t want the attention! One of my students, who was desperately struggling, knew how to look busy, so sitting next to me kept him from trying to con me that he was actually trying to solve problems.  He definitely tried to trick me, but I called him out. A few more times like this, and he knew I meant business. He stopped trying to look busy and started attempting the problems before him. Just attempting…finding a starting place to solve is huge when you struggle in math.  I remember this from my own childhood.

When students have progressed to where they begin solving problems more easily, I still encourage them to ask for help, but I do not let them come to me unless they have attempted the problem.  I can ask them, “What do you think you are going to do here?” or “Where do you think you should start?” They are so used to struggling and the teacher just giving them an answer that they often ask before even thinking about how/where they should begin.  Getting them to dig in and try to understand the problem is foundational in developing grit and sticking with the problem. When solving math equations or word problems, it’s truly important to have a place to stick information to, so beginning the problem and attempting to solve it gives them something to add or learn from. If they don’t think through this first part, a teacher’s lesson is like throwing darts into the dark without any specific target that will reach their students.

I also coach my students while giving notes. At some point, they may stop understanding. I coach them to keep taking the notes I give them, but make a note to themselves that this is where they have stopped understanding.  Again, I learned this from my own struggles. In fact, in my Algebra one course when the teacher was finished with the lesson and asked for questions, I was able to ask my questions clearly. To do this well, I had to turn off my negative self-talk.  If I allowed my negative self-talk to take over, the only thing I heard from that point on was me telling me how stupid I was and how I was the only person not understanding. In place of negative self-talk, I encouraged myself to take a deep breath and remind myself that even though I didn’t understand the concept just then, I knew I would eventually if I didn’t shut down.  That allowed me to keep paying attention and sometimes even cleared my confusion. When I shut down, this wasn’t possible.

Something else that helps students is allowing them to talk about patterns they notice.  Whether they struggle or not, when they notice a math pattern, letting them talk it out with the rest of the class will help everyone!! Worst case, it’s also a way a  teacher can help clear up misconceptions early on. The best math teachers for me were my peers. Sometimes students identify specific items that make a world of difference for their peers. My son is in third grade and has a more natural way of understanding math than his older sister.  Whenever he notices a pattern, he stops and we have an entire conversation about it. He truly amazes me. We can, and should, help our students learn the patterns because often times when they figure it out for themselves, they feel more confident and the knowledge isn’t dumped after an assessment. My son talking about the patterns he sees also helps his older sister and younger sister think through that math pattern, too.  That’s a win!!

It’s a Journey

For students who struggle in math, it is an emotional journey.  When teachers stop and say, “I know you are struggling, and I’m here to help, and I won’t go on until you understand,” it’s a balm for our students’ insecure nerves. When they are fifth graders coming to me, they usually have three to four years of feeling left behind.  Hoping to help my struggling students, my mindset is firm that their struggles stop with me and I do all in my power to get them to grow and decrease any learning gaps.

Over time, I have developed the wisdom necessary to see when students quit before even trying or when they are totally overwhelmed.  It’s important to know the difference because both situations require different responses. The quit-before-trying-learner needs a firm reminder of not giving up and figuring out a place to start, while the overwhelmed learner needs to know they can take a break or use another method to help them.

Helping students dig into math struggles is such a beautiful way to help them learn perseverance and purpose.  When they decide to lean into the struggle, they form a mental confidence that can’t be stolen from them. Can you see how facing their insecurity in math can help them in other areas of life, too? Having a teacher who will go the whole distance means everything for these students, and many times, changes a negative academic course into a new path of learning and goal setting!  I have seen the glory! I have seen the joy of confidence from the same student who broke down and cried with me at one point. So yeah…when my students have told me that my fifth grade class was the first time math made sense to them, I feel like I’ve earned an Oscar!

Resources 

Have you heard of the book written by Alice Aspinall called Everyone Can Learn Math? Recently, I read it with my five children and it sparked great discussion.  My oldest, who is currently in fifth grade, found the main character, Amy, very “relatable.” Amy feels the math struggle deeply and so does her mom! I would recommend this book for every parent and educator to keep in their home or classroom library.  I know we will be pulling it out to reread a lot. It’s also a good way to combine your academics. Author, Alice Aspinall also recommends Adding Parents to the Equation by Hilary Kreisburg and Matthew Bayranevand.

Also, have you heard of Nearpod and Flocabulary? When I went back into teaching public school a few years ago, they were the first technologies that I implemented in my lessons.  My students and children love it. They can be personalized or differentiated for the different level of learning going on in your classroom. These resources are engaging and will definitely make a difference in small group learning.  The coolest part is now they are together!!!

Before Christmas, I went to the Anchorage Barnes & Noble and bought some new books by Jo Boaler in hopes of helping me grow in teaching and understanding the math struggle: What’s Math Got To Do With ItMathematical Mindsets, and Limitless Mind.  There is another book calledMath Recess: Playful Learning in an Age of Disruptionby Sunil Singh that I hope to purchase and read. All of these books, and both of these authors, are mentioned frequently when the topic of math struggles come up–and they do frequently! We can also Google their videos!

What are resources that have helped you? Let’s work together to help our students learn through the math struggle!

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here.

 

Looking for a new book to read? Many stories from educators, two student chapters, and a student-designed cover for In Other Words.

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Creating an Action Plan Through Reflection

Guest Post by Debbie Tannenbaum @MrsTannenb

During Winter Break, I read three amazing and thought-provoking books. Each one provided me with new ideas, takeaways and made me examine my practice. The last book I finished was Innovate Inside The Box by George Couros and Katie Novak. As I began reading Part Three: You Are The Change You Seek of this book, George issues this challenge, ” We can consume pages and hours of great content, but until we do something with it, we have no ownership over the process of learning. He then asked the reader to reflect on these three questions based on our reading

1. What has challenged you?

2. What has been reaffirmed?

3. What will you do moving forward?

When I began to consider what challenged me from my reading, I really had to stop and think. Having already read Innovator’s Mindset last year and having prior experience with UDL, so much of what I read in this book resonated with me.

As I returned to school on Monday, several ideas from my reading kept bubbling up in my mind.

1. Shifting our focus and practice to be learner-driven and evidence-focused

2. What does risk mean?

3. Encouraging problem-finding and not just problem solving

Learner-Driven, Evidence Focused

In chapter 2 of the book, George Couros describes how he dislikes the term data-driven. Working in a model PLC school, there is no doubt that we spend a lot of time on data- in fact, some months, with increased testing, it feels like all we do is collect data. So when I read this, it gave me pause. Are we truly learner centered? Are we telling the story of the whole child? Are we preparing students for their futures or to meet benchmarks and goals based on our school improvement plans?

This section really led me to question our practices as educators. It made me examine why we do things the way we do, why I do things the way I do? Is the support I provide “opening doors” to the future? If so, are there any ways that I can further tweak this to make it more learner centered?

Risk-takers

In chapter 5, George and Katie discuss risk-taking, which is one of the characteristics of the Innovator’s Mindset. As I read this, their definition of risk caught my attention and made me look at risk through a different lens. I have always called myself a risk-taker, an early adopter, but reading this definition made the WHY behind it so clear. “Risk is moving from a comfortable average in pursuit of an unknown better.“Looking at risk through this lens took the negative connotation usually associated with this word away. It equated risk with innovation.

As a tech coach, I am constantly not only taking risks, but modeling it for all my learners. How can I better empower my learners through the use of UDL to develop more agency and risk-taking.

Problem Finders- Solvers

Chapter 6 shares how when we act as problem finders-solvers, we demonstrate an Innovator’s Mindset. In the district I work in, we have been heavily immersed in PBL or Project/Problem Based Learning. In late November and early December, one of our PBL Leads even came to our CLTs to help us plan upcoming PBL units. I love the idea of PBL and giving our students authentic purposes for their learning.

So when the idea of being a problem finder was introduced, I looked a little closer. I love this idea; it reminds me of 20% time and Passion Projects. It sounds amazing, but once again, time seems to be a culprit. How can we provide time for students to cultivate such endeavors while covering the curriculum? Could we involve students more in planning our PBLs beyond just the “Need to Knows?”

Reading this book reaffirmed so many things for me especially as I CHALLENGE myself this year to establish healthier habits and take more risks.

In chapter 3, as George and Katie described the importance of empowerment and shared how it leads to ownership and agency. It reminds me of how Ron Ritchart emphasized the importance of language when I attended WISSIT19 this summer.

In chapter 4, George and Katie share the importance of not only being a master educator, but also a master learner. If I have learned anything this break, it has been what a dramatic impact that reading 10-15 minutes a day can make in my learning. “In a profession where learning is the focus of our job, growth is essential and the target is always moving.” We all need to embrace that mantra and model being lifelong learners for our colleagues and students

So as I look towards the future, what will I do moving forward? The first thing that came to my mind was reflection. As part of #myoneword2020, I CHALLENGE myself to journal regularly. Journaling is such a huge component of reflection. George shares, “Reflection is what links our performance to our potential.” As I journal and monitor my goals daily, I am focused on my goals and making progress towards them. Linked to that is the idea of self care. ” When our job is about serving other people, we have to not forget to serve ourselves.” Moving forward, I CHALLENGE myself to be committed to healthier eating, regular exercise, doing activities that fill my bucket such as blogging, reading and writing. Dedicating time each morning to this pursuit has been so inspirational so far.

“Is there a better way?” Sometimes there is and we need to take a risk. Other times, we need to examine if what we are currently doing meets our students’ needs. But behind it all, there are so many ways we can take our learners and the relationships we build with them and empower them for an amazing future. I am ready to take the CHALLENGE, are you?

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**Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here.

 

Looking for a new book to read? Many stories from educators, two student chapters, and a student-designed cover for In Other Words.

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

 

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Pushing Ourselves Professionally: 5 Ways to Share Our Educator Talent

Previously posted on Getting Smart

As educators, we need to actively take part in the reflection of what we do in our classrooms and schools, our interactions, and make sure we are intentional about setting aside time to think about each day as we plan for the next. As humans, we need to reflect on who we are, our growth, our goals, and be mindful of what we are doing to make a difference in the world and how we can support others each day.  Here are five ways to reflect on our practice, push ourselves personally and professionally, and also highlight the work that we are doing. We each have special talents and need to share them with other educators so that we can continue to grow.

Blogging

One way to reflect more closely, beyond simply processing our thoughts is by starting a blog. Finding the time to sit and write a blog, can present a slight challenge, however, a blog can take whatever form that we want it to. Getting started might simply mean having a stack of post-it notes, where each day you write down one thought on the post-it notes and then at the end of the week or over the weekend, reflect on the questions or comments you made. Compile your thoughts into a document, use voice to text to save time, and share with your PLN.

Another option would be to create your own blog site and start a draft to gather your thoughts in a short or long post. Whether you just keep a draft for your own personal review and growth or choose to publish it and share it with your PLN and the larger educator community, it will still benefit your growth. Sharing our thoughts like this makes us vulnerable, which can be uncomfortable, but if we truly want to grow, we need to put ourselves out there. It is important not only for our own growth but also serves as a good model for our students and our colleagues.

Podcasting

There are a lot of podcasts available to educators today. Some choose to launch a podcast focused on a specific topic or theme, or to create a podcast for the purpose of highlighting other educators and the work being done in our schools. Podcasts can be another beneficial addition to our practice not only for reflecting, but to share the ideas of what we are doing in our classroom. One might ask, what would I talk about? What would I have to contribute? We all have our own unique ideas, skills and perspectives. Even if we reach just one person with a word of advice or a new idea, that still makes an impact. It might be exactly what that one person needed to hear. Again time can be an issue but there are many tools out there that make it easy to create a short podcast. It might be just 5 minutes sharing what happened in your classroom, or 10 to 15 minutes spent talking about a specific topic that was part of a conversation within your PLN or brought up in class. Other options include inviting other educators to be guests on your podcast to share what they are doing. Podcasting is another option for pushing ourselves to continue to grow personally and professionally. I recently started my own podcast after thinking about it for a few years, and it has been a good way for me to think about different topics and reflect on my practice.

Live Streaming

Technology has really enabled educators to do so much more and engage in learning that far extends the reach of classrooms and schools.  Being able to talk about an activity that we did in our classrooms, or describing projects that students presented, of course does not provide a clear picture of what that actually looks like in practice.  We can be as descriptive as possible, we can even share photos and talk about it, but to be able to live stream and invite other classrooms, students and educators into our learning space to see it firsthand is far more powerful. As educators, we can also use these different tools to give a quick update, to talk about topics that are important to us, to share new ideas, to ask for help, and sometimes, to escape the isolation that can happen in our profession. Selecting from options like PeriscopeInstagram, or Facebook Live, we can leverage the platform that makes the most sense for us. Each month, a group of educators hold #PassTheScopeEDU and throughout the day, educators from around the world stream using Periscope to share their experiences and thoughts based on a monthly theme. Look at the different platforms and how educators are using these tools to make connections, and give one of them a try. It can definitely stretch us beyond our comfort zone, but the personal and professional benefits that can result are worth it!

Educators at ISTE presentation. Image courtesy of Rachelle Dene Poth.

Presentations

There are many ways for teachers to share the work they are doing and make new connections. For years, professional development in schools often involved sessions that were presented by outside organizations who sent trainers into the schools for the PD days.  However, more recently, teachers are taking the lead on professional development days within their own schools, traveling to local schools to share the work that they are doing, or even planning special learning events at their own school as my friend Zee Poerio does with a “Taste of Technology”. Opportunities like these foster a more authentic learning experience for educators, just as we want for our students, and also provides the opportunity to receive peer feedback and build our knowledge base. There are many in-person and virtual learning events that seek presenters. Find a conference to submit a proposal for or create your own meet-up with educators and stretch yourself a bit. Taking advantage of these opportunities is important as it pushes us to take some risks, enables us to expand our own learning network, and fosters our professional growth.

Video Tutorials

Something else that not only benefits our own practice but helps to create a resource that we can use in our classrooms, is to create video tutorials or screencasts. For times when we may not be in our classroom and need to have lessons available to share with our students or our colleagues, having video lessons or tutorials available can make a difference. It is something that can take as little as a few minutes to create. Using tools like Screencastify, you can record your screen and navigate a website, explain a project, discuss a concept, work through a problem, teach a lesson, or anything else on your screen. Taking advantage of this technology makes this fairly easy and quick to do. You can also create screencasts and other helpful videos to share with other educators which can explain how to use a certain digital tool or showcase some examples of student projects or other work that you have done. Creating these can be more comfortable because we control the recording and can redo as often as needed. However, the benefit is that we are continuing to build our skills and share our expertise with others; creating more learning opportunities that will benefit educators and students.

Each of these ideas offer many benefits for educators and students. If our students engage in these learning activities or create presentations for our classes, we should also engage in them ourselves. Modeling this for our students, being willing to take some risks, to put ourselves out there, and stretch beyond our comfort zone, is important for our growth as well as theirs.

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here.

 

Looking for a new book to read? Many stories from educators, two student chapters, and a student-designed cover for In Other Words.

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

 

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Authentic Writing You Can Do … with your Students!

Guest post by Sarah Kiefer, @kiefersj

 

I’ve shared several times that as a Technology Integration Specialist, I do not have my own classroom of students. Nor do I have any kind of regular teaching schedule. This allows me to work with any teacher and any group of students! My goal is that anything/everything I do supports classroom instruction and I love when teachers come to me and ask me to work with students. Sometimes, what we set out to do morphs into something else … and it’s always a good thing!

At the beginning of March, Mrs. Laura Counts approached me to help a group of her students. These 5 students had read several books by Sandra Markle (@Sandra_Markle) and had decided they wanted to write their own book, in her style. Laura asked if I would help. Wow! They wanted to do the research, writing, AND the designing of the book!

The overall task was → the students were inspired after reading a non-fiction book to write their own book. As a group, they decided to research bird feet and each selected a bird that interested them. They would use their research to write in the style of Sandra Markle. Meanwhile, I would work with them to take their writings and make it into a book.

We set to work. I met with the students a couple times a week to work on the actual book design and on the other days, they would do their research. I had such fun talking through the design process … we had a LOT of decisions to make! Which tool do we use? Book Creator? Google Slides? Something else? We settled on Slides. Then we poured over every detail … the dimensions of the book (we literally pulled out a ruler to measure!); making the wooden sign; which font(s) to use – this was a BIG conversation … do we all use the same? does each author use a different one?; whose page goes first? last? order?; gathering the credits for the images we used; and many more! I have to hand it to these 5 kiddos. They did an AMAZING job! They put forth their very best. It really shows!

A very interesting conversation we had very early on was whether or not Ms. Markle would be “mad” they were writing this. One of the boys was worried she would be angry. I asked him why, and basically he was worried she would think we were copying her. I assured him we weren’t going to profit off of this and we would be giving her the credit. Mrs. Counts added that she thought Ms. Markle would be thrilled we were doing this. I offered to reach out to her. I did so, via Twitter – our world really isn’t as big as one would think! – and she responded very quickly! It was awesome to be able to show them that the author was proud of them.

We used several digital tools to help us create our book. One of our favorites is a website “Build Your Wild Self” from the Bronx Zoo (unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to be available anymore). Then we also used a couple of “digital scissors” — https://online.photoscissors.com/ (to be able to take the “wild self” and attach their specific bird legs) and https://www.remove.bg/ (for our author pages – not shown in the preview below because of the age of the students). Showing the students the power of a Google Slide was incredible! I don’t know who enjoyed it more, them or me!

I am happy to share the final version of their book! The attention to detail and the excitement of these students showed through this whole project is heartwarming. I’m not sharing their author pages due to their age, but several of them have commented on wanting to be authors! ……. I believe they already are!

*** Link to a published Slides that shares the majority of the book the students created.

 

 

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here.

 

Looking for a new book to read? Many stories from educators, two student chapters, and a student-designed cover for In Other Words.

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

 

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